All posts by Justin Joseph

Justin's career in video game journalism started eight years ago on the Nintendo NSider Forums (R.I.P.) under the handle 'Wolverine' (hence his avatar), and it hasn't stopped since. From his first, and most pathetic review for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, he has since written for three websites, with ProjectCOE being the latest and most likely final stop. Rubbing elbows with what he considers the greatest bunch of international gamers that share a passion for the industry is what keeps him here. (Well, maybe picking on loser Tim is part of the equation too. That's an absolute must.) This COE second-in-command is a QA Analyst/Technical Writer by trade during the day, newlywed husband by night, and mobile gamer wherever it manages to fit for him. Justin and his wife love to sell out to their local church and build a life of faith together in Christ. Oh, and he believes beds are the most genius invention ever. (Did he mention how bad Tim smells?... Seriously, take a shower dude.)

N.O.V.A. 3 Review

N.O.V.A. 3 (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-12
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: May 31, 2012

Played on ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 w/Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Sampled on HTC Rezound running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: N.O.V.A. 3, with its technical polish, is unsurprisingly the most explicit installment of Gameloft’s sci-fi franchise. Kal Wardin swears, the combat is more visceral, and there are suggestive themes. The game overall is the most ‘mature’ of the series.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal; participated in several online (wi-fi) competitive matches.

Our old A.I. friend Yelena has beckoned N.O.V.A. hero Kal Wardin back to Earth. He doesn’t know what for on the way in, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover that Volterites have assaulted his home planet. Why? There’s supposed to be a ceasefire between humanity and the alien race. That matters not however, as Kal quickly joins a ragtag N.O.V.A. team working to repel the invasion. He ultimately learns that the humans have done something very foolish, and Prometheus steps in to force our hero into his final mission. Let’s just say things don’t look good for humans or Volterites.

The Great:

Eye-popping! When N.O.V.A. 3’s teaser trailers emerged, everyone agreed that Gameloft was once again raising the bar for visual polish in a mobile game. That’s what N3 has done. Our Executive Director Jarrod and I agree that the game could easily pass as a first-generation Xbox 360 or PS3 title. It’s not exactly shocking given the ongoing technological evolution of mobile devices, but I don’t think anyone anticipated a game like N3 arriving so soon. I can only imagine what it looks like first-hand on the iPad’s retina display. Yet no matter your device, the N.O.V.A. and Volterite models, environments, and effects are second-to-none. N.O.V.A. 3 is in the top three prettiest mobile games.

The Good:

+ The cast. Kal Wardin, Yelena, Prometheus, and a couple newcomers come together to deliver the most enjoyable and emotional plot in this sci-fi series. I cared more about each than in the previous two installments. That’s always good.

+ The weapons. Kal’s arsenal is fun to play with. I’m sad that the dual-wield pistols and auto-shotgun were given the boot, but the rest of Wardin’s toys are entertaining.

+ More skills, again. Melee has been inexplicably removed, but at least replaced and supplemented with ‘slow motion’ and ‘repel’ abilities. Thus, you can either send enemies flying (a la Jean Grey), or enter what is unaffectionately known as bullet time. Both are fun and useful, along with the mainstay freeze power.

+ Piloting a mech. It’s more or less identical to doing so in N.O.V.A. 2, except flashier.

+ Grenades. I’m often unimpressed with the results of explosives in games, especially shooters. Yet N.O.V.A. 3 makes every grenade toss a wonderful anticipation of a loud and pretty boom, not to mention a dramatic scattering of any Volterites caught in the blast.

+ Flamethrower! OK, I suppose I can forgive the omission of an auto-shotgun. It may not arrive until later in the campaign, but you can’t help but smile while burning Volterites to a crisp.

The So-So:

+/- Gyroscope controls. N.O.V.A. 3 is the first mobile game where I’ve given gyro control a spin. It’s an aid and a pain at the same time. Gyro doesn’t replace a second analog stick, but still allows you to not have to swipe across the screen to aim in battle. However, it can easily disorient you when enemies move around around a lot. You can only twist a tablet so far, thus trying to move, fire and use the gyro function in a way that feels natural is next to impossible. Where’s my Android gamepad?

+/- Voice acting. The voices sound great; the script is written well, and the dialogue is convincing. It’s too bad then, that the mouth syncing is hit-or-miss. You should never see a character’s mouth still moving when his/her lines are finished being spoken.

+/- Multiplayer. The overall structure is very well-done. There’s a healthy selection of enjoyable maps; you can customize your warrior to a great degree; you can participate in tournaments; the modes you expect are there, etc. The big problems are lag and players infrequently joining matches in progress. Lag isn’t prevalent in every match I’ve played, but very noticeable when it occurs. I wish that those who pay for 3G or 4G service could take advantage of that for online play. It’s also not fun to be consistently outnumbered…

The Bad:

–  Let me customize! I don’t understand why Gameloft’s older Modern Combat 3 allows you to choose where to place every input icon, and choose the size of each, but N.O.V.A. 3 doesn’t. You can shift everything but the reload function, which is the most important to be able to! This isn’t so bad for smartphone users, but you must completely move your hand on a 10.1″ tablet to manually replenish your weapon’s magazine. That’s unintuitive.

– Ending. I’m disappointed with how lazy Gameloft is with concluding its games. After a brief final scene after defeating the last boss, N3 abruptly ends. No closing cutscene that clarifies plot elements, nothing. I’m interested in knowing what happened to these characters, and likely never will. This is worse than the pre-DLC Mass Effect 3!

– Renting weapons, seriously? It’s very strange that the sci-fi weapons are only accessible from the in-game store. You can’t acquire them by eliminating enemies. It’s further disconcerting that it isn’t a permanent purchase. I bought a fun, new gun the moment I had a chance, and it was gone the following mission. Eh?…

– Aiming on a jeep. I thought there was something horribly wrong with my game while manning a jeep during the second mission. I even restarted it multiple times. Several minutes later, I finally discovered that shifting your reticule around normally requires swiping from one side of the screen to the other. Well, that’s plain stupid. Does this affect phones too? I don’t know.

The Ugly:

Bugs galore! It’s very unfortunate that N3 looks so good and is fun, but filled to the brim with bugs. You name a glitch, and it’s probably able to happen. I fell through floors. Key game events failed to trigger. The game force-closed. The Volterites would stop moving. I would stop being able to move. And I’m sure others encountered glitches that I haven’t. I don’t know who was responsible for the game’s testing, but I strongly question the job they did for this experience. I hope Gameloft releases a big patch job soon.

The Lowdown:

Since its teaser trailers released, I rooted for N.O.V.A. 3 to be the best of the best in mobile gaming. In the looks department, Gameloft’s product has virtually no equal. Yet in so many areas, N3 reminds you that videogames will always be imperfect. To what extent is up to the developer and its QA staff, and the extent to which this title takes you out of the experience is discouraging. Of course Gameloft can issue updates in the future, and I believe they will. For now, Kal Wardin’s final mission may be fun romp, but it may leave you feeling a tad irked when all is said and done.

Final Score: 7/10

N.O.V.A. 2 Review

N.O.V.A. 2 (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-8
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: December 16, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: If your child plays Halo, there’s no reason he/she can’t play N.O.V.A. as well. The violence and content overall is much milder.

Review Basis: Finished campaign onNormal; participated in an online (wi-fi) competitive match.

N.O.V.A. 2 is a sequel to N.O.V.A., or Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance. Six years have passed since Kal Wardin faced off with the Xenos aliens and encountered the Judges, and now humanity is at each other’s throats in a bloody civil war. You have the Terran Orbitals on one side, and the Human-Volterite Alliance on the other. Wardin tried to leave his N.O.V.A. service [again], but is thrust into the middle of this conflict when the peaceful planet of Scorpius that he retired to is attacked by the Volterites.

The Great:

Combat variety. Wardin of course fights most of this war on-foot, but also mans a jeep turret, pilots a giant mech, drives a speed bike (a la Star Wars), and has access to much more weaponry than the original N.O.V.A. provided. Kal has dual-wield pistols, a submachine gun, pump-action and auto-shotguns, grenade and rocket launchers, a slew of Volterite weapons, and explosives. You really can’t be bored using N.O.V.A. 2’s toys. Of course I’m partial to the auto-shotgun and always will be, and Kal’s didn’t disappoint.

The Good:

+ Much-improved visuals. Like the transition from Modern Combat: Sandstorm to Black Pegasus, N2’s improvement over N.O.V.A. is striking with its jump in polygons and overall greater detail.

+ The cast. I appreciated Kal’s personality much more than last time. His lines before sounded awkward, as though his voice actor was altogether uninterested. He offers more emotion and substance here, and it helps his relationship with Yelena. Neither is perfect, but the communication isn’t ever really annoying.

+ Upgrades. It’s pitiful how few hidden credits I found in the campaign, but I enjoyed using them nonetheless to improve Kal’s abilities and weapon attributes.

+ More skills. The freeze ability returns, but the same icon on the touch screen eventually can be switched to a disc attack. It’s fun to get up-close-and-personal to your enemies and issue an insta-kill. You simply have to be careful the opposite doesn’t happen.

+ Piloting a mech. (I wanted to offer more detail.) One mission places you in the body of a metal beast, sort of like an AT-AT. You get to fire a chain gun, let rockets loose, and cause a mess of chaos. Destroy the environment, other mechs, and a bunch of hostile ground troops. Very enjoyable!

+ Enemy AI. It’s fascinating, and somewhat sad, that N.O.V.A. offers fairly intelligent enemies. This is a mobile game with much more limited technology mind you. They try to dodge when it makes sense, band together, and use cover in a moderately wise fashion. I’m quite impressed.

The So-So:

+-  Music. It does the job, but is forgettable. The main menu theme is catchy though.

+- Multiplayer. Accuse me of not experiencing it enough by participating in only one match, but I could do nothing more. Just a few people were online, as obviously fans are playing N.O.V.A. 3 now, and I was lucky to even do that. It was a decent match. Nothing exciting, but I managed to land some kills.

The Bad:

–  Poor optimization. N.O.V.A 2 never played smoothly for me. I’m again sure iDevice users don’t experience this, and I still don’t know if other Android gamers do, but the game lagged and stuttered considerably across the board. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but it certainly doesn’t add to it.

– Driving a speed bike. (I wanted to offer more detail.) A number of times you drive a speed bike. That’s not so bad; you tilt your mobile device to steer, and it works well enough. What I hated was shooting a gun at the same time. Why they decided to place the fire icon squarely in front of your view is beyond me. Plus, it’s not automatic, so you have to tap a million times. I died quite a bit. Not enjoyable…

– No level select? It’s not unreasonable to expect access to each level individually as you finish them, right? Apparently N.O.V.A. 2 thinks it is. After I finished the campaign, only starting a new game altogether was available.

– Too much! A virtual stick, fire icon, reload, weapon-switch, special ability, grenade, jump, pause; all these inputs are on your screen simultaneously. I don’t care if you’re playing on a smartphone or tablet; that’s a little much to keep track of all at once.

The Ugly:

Kill that b******! You hear this line over and over from the enemy. I was tired of it after a handful of times, and it didn’t stop there. Videogame dialogue overkill, to say the least.

The Lowdown:

It’s nice to see N.O.V.A. take on more of its own personality with this sequel, despite how obvious the franchise mimics Halo. Kal and Yelena are more enjoyable, and the offensive arsenal is exquisite. The story isn’t exactly riveting, but Gameloft has quite the above average shooter here. That’s impressive considering their AAA Modern Combat series. Maintaining two quality 3D FPS properties at once can’t be easy.

Final Score: 8/10

 

And while you wait for Justin to finish N.O.V.A. 3 on his Android tablet, please enjoy the trailers below for the game, straight from Gameloft!

Confessions of an Editor-in-Chief X: This is the future?…

Boy, is anyone pleased to be a current-gen platform owner, console or portable, at this moment? Because E3 2012 sure hasn’t offered many reasons to be.

It was a painful mistake to even feel excited for Nintendo’s press conference this afternoon, as I was. Sure it was great to be able to actually WATCH the dumb thing at work on Nintendo’s Facebook page, seeing as every source for Microsoft’s stream didn’t cooperate with my Thunderbolt, but man talk about a borefest E3! This is the first time in the history of my keeping up with the goings-on at the week-long convention where I’m disappointed across the board with what every company is doing.

Yes, several games were demonstrated or at least verbally described that we can look forward to: Halo 4, The Last of Us, Watch Dogs, LEGO City, Tomb RaiderSplinter Cell, etc. But outside of those, I’m honestly embarrassed to have spent the over five hours to date to be informed of what’s on the gaming horizon.

Is this a rant? Well, I don’t intend it to be, but it will come off as one I’m sure. My desire here instead is to express what I believe is a fantastic time to be a dedicated mobile gamer! After having seen the different company’s conferences, I don’t feel like I’m missing out in the least. I’m personally looking forward to finishing N.O.V.A. 2 on my Thunderbolt soon so that I can enjoy the very sick-looking N.O.V.A. 3 in the near future. I just hope Gameloft soon launches support for my ASUS Transformer Pad tablet (though it strangely died tonight and I must return it…), because I really want to play the games I’ve purchased from them on the device. I’ve enjoyed Dead Space and Shadowgun on it as well, but not Modern Combat 3 or N.O.V.A. yet.

Anyway, rabbit trail…back to E3.

Microsoft, when will you learn to stop hiring celebrities to make your conferences seem cool? The Beatles didn’t impress me a couple years ago, and Usher didn’t either in 2012. No one cared to watch his incredibly lame choreography while at the same time failing to do much of anything with the actual Dance Central game. In general, all three companies did really stupid things that dragged out for no logical reason. Wonderbook? Yes, easily the dumbest move of the bunch, and one no one will ever understand. If any parent watching that garbage actually felt intrigued by it, please email me so I can set you straight. And Nintendo, what possessed them to create Nintendo Land? Is that supposed to be their version of PlayStation Home or something? And thanks for the ghost game that’s basically already available in Wii Party. Oh brother.

Where were my 23 games as well, Nintendo? I think you forgot to say “on the showfloor”, if that’s even really the case. You baited me Reggie, and I didn’t appreciate it. Plus, no hint of Zelda, Metroid, Mario Kart, or Smash. Were two been there, done that Mario games supposed to blow us away? I’m sorry readers and fellow COE staff, but after the wonderful Super Mario 3D Land came to the scene recently, I thought the two new titles were a sad step backward. Stickers?! Did hardcore gamers become kindergartners again all of a sudden? Oh, and all those coins! Yes! (Isn’t that Wario’s pride and joy?) I also still don’t know the point of the WiiU or its controller. If Nintendo was really that attracted to the tablet space thanks to Apple, why not just go that route? Sophisticated Nintendo software on a tablet with traditional gaming inputs? That sounds pretty sweet to me. But alas, they want to integrate it with a console, and everyone is confused. Isn’t it supposed to be HD too? Pikmin 3 and Scribblenauts Unlimited sure didn’t showcase that. Furthermore, how did Nintendo sucker Ubisoft into this, and even WB for the matter? Who will buy Assassin’s Creed III, Batman or Mass Effect 3? The 3DS content looked way more exciting than the WiiU stuff, and it was ironically brushed aside in favor of a supposed return to the console hardcore base. Right… It’s no wonder pricing and a launch date weren’t announced. Rethink your strategy Nintendo, please, before it’s too late.

On Sony’s side, I’m about to say something very unpopular. Beyond was boring, The Last of Us didn’t make any sense and God of War was a disaster. Why is Kratos coming back? No one asked for that; yet because some Sony exec was convinced that we were all pining for co-op with non Blades of Chaos-wielding, non-Kratos characters, we’re getting Ascension. What I saw was God of War III DLC. Same combat gameplay, different location. What a waste of company resources there. Why Beyond boring? Well, I just didn’t find sitting there for ten minutes watching a mute young woman do the same as anything to write home about. Obviously the game is about the supernatural, but that didn’t move me. A coffee cup mysteriously smashed into a police officer’s office wall. Ooohhhh, spooky. Um, no. Sure, the facial expressions looked fantastic, but we saw that in Heavy Rain too. Beyond will probably be a fantastic game, but the conference reveal didn’t convince me of that potential. The Last of Us, I haven’t understood since day one. Why are the people fighting each other? Isn’t there a zombie outbreak of some sort? Plus, if there are other people, doesn’t that sort of contradict the title? I was lost. I’m not even going to mention Wonderbook any more than with this sentence. Blech! (Yes, I mentioned it above, oh well.)

Microsoft, coming back to you… I applaud your passion and determination to be the sole producer of varying entertainment in our living rooms, but that’s not the main reason people purchase an Xbox. Have you forgotten that? Yeah, great, you have Halo 4. We already knew that. By the way, does anyone agree that E3 didn’t have any surprises this year, not one? Everything was basically accounted for pre-June 4. Either way, Forza was just another racing game, Black Ops II was familiar and an all too-predictable way to end the conference, and Gears of War is more or less along the lines of God of War. Who asked for that either? I’m also sure that Steve can’t wait to play the next Dragon Quest Swords, or Fable: The Journey as they call it now. (I really hope you boycott Dance Central too my friend! Usher was such a pointless presence!) Lastly, what in the world is Ascent: New Gods? I saw a big dude with some kind of scythe going around slicing up other dudes. Is there more than that? Tomb Raider and Splinter Cell were the only saving graces in my opinion; Lara finally seems relevant again, though I don’t care for Sam Fisher’s new voice. Did Ironside’s contract run out or something? Oh, am I hearing you say I’ve forgotten Resident Evil 6? Eh, it doesn’t look all that compelling, sorry.

It’s borderline unforgivable that EA and Ubisoft kept my attention and sparked more interest than the Big 3 combined, but that’s not saying much. I didn’t like the planet action of Dead Space 3, and the Rabbids really need to disappear. They’re not funny anymore. Also, what’s EA Sports’ obsession with Kinect? I suppose voice commands help streamline and speed up some gameplay in Madden and what have you, but will people actually use them? And why is Criterion making another Need for Speed Most Wanted? I literally almost fell asleep watching that demo; we’ve seen it all before and then some. Is anyone seriously dying to become the Most Wanted? And to end this off, was Far Cry 3 supposed to be the next big thing for shooters? Didn’t catch a hint of that whatsoever.

*yawn*

There’s probably plenty that I’ve missed, but I’ll save that for the comments.

Is everything I’ve said based on the totality of the available knowledge out there for each of these games and the company’s respective plans? I admit, no, but I don’t think that entirely matters. A press conference is a press conference, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to draw the conclusions based on what I saw during them. Do you think any of my comments are completely asinine crazy? Or do you believe I’m right on the money? Are you somewhere in between? By all means have a discussion here; I simply wanted to chime in from a perspective [as a mobile gamer] that I’ve never had before. I’m not suggesting that E3 2012 was or will be a total bust. I’m declaring that from a media standpoint, there hasn’t been this much fodder to poke fun at for a long time. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo each ought to be ashamed of themselves. The Xbox 360 is now on the path to resting in peace; the software isn’t there. The PS3 has a little life left in it, but not more than a couple years. The Vita is in serious trouble; a picture of the Call of Duty game everyone already knew existed doesn’t help the platform’s reputation. WiiU is not at all in the position Nintendo should want, and the 3DS is probably stable for the time being. Is the real next generation truly to be previewed next year, or is what we don’t know from each company going to change things for the better? Tokyo Game Show isn’t far off thankfully, but should we even waste our time anticipating it? Lots of questions; not many answers…for now.

 

Shadowgun: The Leftover Review

Shadowgun: The Leftover (v1.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Madfinger
[Apple] Release Date: December 21, 2011
[Android] Release Date: January 30, 2012

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Note: Please read our full review for the original Shadowgun to learn the core details of the game. This follow-up covers the enhancements featured in The Leftover expansion.

Review Basis: Finished on Normal difficulty.

If you haven’t played or finished Shadowgun, don’t worry I won’t spoil anything. Just don’t take that to mean that the game’s story is some Pulitzer work. The Leftover picks up exactly where Shadowgun ends, seeing as Mr. Slade isn’t quite done with his mission. John has to…you know, leave? Trusty S.A.R.A. is fully aware of our bald friend’s situation, and most happy to lead him to the exit.

The Great:

Better than Shadowgun. The Leftover isn’t a giant improvement over the main campaign, but brings upgrades to the table. Four additional levels, a new weapon, original enemy type, fresh environment interaction, and soundtrack come with Madfinger’s. It’s also more fun, and I wish Shadowgun played this way in the first place.

The Good:

+ Affects Shadowgun campaign. I didn’t play Shadowgun before The Leftover was released for Android, and that’s probably a good thing. TL adds a roll function, camera shaking and bullet trails that wouldn’t have been there to spice up the action had I been an earlier customer. Where’s the ability to run though?

+ Over or under. Madfinger added finger-swiping to slide under and hop over obstacles in the environment.

+ New riffs. The music is the same rock motif, but it’s nice to hear new stuff.

+ Ends quicker. TL is a better experience than Shadowgun, but I’m glad it didn’t last longer. I was bored with the main game by the time I finished it, and I didn’t want that to be how I felt in the end about The Leftover.

+ Still fantastic visuals. Subtle improvements all-around make an already-impressive looker even better-looking.

The So-So:

+- Not exactly devastating. The plasma rifle is a neat toy; it looks and sounds cool. However, it doesn’t rip enemies apart like you’d hope. So much for that technology.

The Bad:

Overlapping inputs. With the plasma rifle providing a fifth weapon, it was occasionally a pain to select it. This probably doesn’t apply to tablet users, but I shouldn’t be compelled to move the action inputs around just because I’m playing on a phone. I liked where my main functions were, and shouldn’t be punished for that.

Why bother asking? You make a seemingly important decision after defeating the final boss of Shadowgun. Yet I think all it affects is the very brief conversation that ensues. When The Leftover ends, I couldn’t tell you what else that choice may have influenced.

The Ugly:

Still lags… I no longer expect the more sophisticated Android games to perform well on my Thunderbolt, which is sad. It’s a powerful device, so I don’t understand this problem.

The Lowdown:

It’s great that Android and iOS make it so easy for app developers to push out updates to their paying customers, but why not release Shadowgun without the need for a Leftover? I think it would’ve been a better product overall. I do understand Deadzone, the game’s upcoming multiplayer component, being released independently, but perhaps I’m alone here. Still, I don’t want to come off as having hated John Slade’s adventure; I didn’t. It’s a quality game that demolishes most efforts out there for Android and iOS gaming. If you’re a shooter aficionado, Shadowgun and its expansion would be a great investment.

Average Score Scale: 7.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s better than Shadowgun.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: It may be better, but it’s not that exciting either.

Shadowgun Review

Shadowgun (v1.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Madfinger
Google Play Price: $5.25
Apple Store Price: $2.99
[Apple] Release Date: September 28, 2011
[Android] Release Date: October 26, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Shadowgun stars a sarcastic and occasionally potty-mouthed galactic bounty hunter. You shoot to kill genetically-engineered enemies in this third-person shooter, but the violence isn’t as pronounced as Gears of War or Call of Duty. Shadowgun is relatively mild compared to most of today’s popular shooters.

Plays Like: Gears of War, and any other third-person shooter that features cover.

Review Basis: Finished the game on Normal difficulty.

It’s a good thing Shadowgun is playable now, because none of us will be around in its year 2350 era of evil governments ruling the denizens of space and terrestrial bodies. John Slade, a galactic mercenary and protagonist of epic baldness, is contracted by the shady Toltech Corporation to capture one Dr. Edgar Simon. The former employee of the trans-galactic entity and renowned geneticist is wanted. Why? Well you’re not told of course, but Slade doesn’t care about anything but payday. Kindly bring the mad scientist out of hiding, and nevermind that the gentleman hiring you looks like a cross between Shredder and Baraka.

The Great:

This looks….great! If Modern Combat 3 is the visual benchmark for FPS titles, and Infinity Blade for RPGs on mobile devices, then Shadowgun is the same for third-person shooters. Powered by the Unity engine on iOS and Android platforms, Madfinger put together an amazing-looking product. John Slade looks like a perfect fit for the COGs, if you ignore his lack of tank armor, and the environments overflow with detail. The opening cinematic is especially striking, reminding me of the quality of Dead Space. If you like games that show off your phone or tablet’s horsepower, Shadowgun will do that.

The Good:

+ Set-piece bosses. You face off against a number of giant mechanical bosses. They’re appropriately challenging (meaning they hurt), and fun to eliminate.

+ Boomstick. Forget realism; whacking foes from yards away with your auto-shotty is a plus in my book.

+ S.A.R.A. Finish the analogy: Master Chief is to Cortana, as John Slade is to _____. If you answered S.A.R.A., have yourself a cookie. Anyway, I can’t believe Slade’s robotic mission support never annoyed me. She doesn’t speak too much or too little, and actually has a cool personality, occasionally even mimicking Slade’s wit. Madfinger designed a great companion for this ride.

+ Interaction. Piggy-backing the previous item, though Slade and S.A.R.A.’s relationship doesn’t avoid missteps, I thoroughly enjoyed their back-and-forth banter.

+ Hacking. Various weapon crates and locked door panels require you to watch the game highlight any of nine symbols in a random order and length on the input pad. You repeat it, and move on. It’s nothing extravagant, but a healthy distraction from all the fighting.

+ Cover. It works mostly well. When Slade approaches a barrier designated for cover, he auto-snaps to it. You can then pop out for some shots, or slide along left or right. Some cover degrades from enemy fire as well, forcing you to make another move.

+ Hidden cards. Shadowgun tucks away over 20 symbols that resemble the game’s app icon. Each unlocks relevant information about the campaign, which is interesting to glance at.

The So-So:

+- Music. Madfinger employs a handful of guitar-laden tracks to attempt to keep the action entertaining. It’s successful initially, but I was sick of hearing the same material the further I progressed.

+- No melee? Gears of War fans I’m sure would agree that the chainsaw bayonet spoils gamers. Such fun… With Shadowgun being so similar, it’s somewhat disappointing that you can’t even whack a guy with your gun.

+- Controls. They generally work well, but sometimes you’ll fumble looking around or something when your finger slips or is on the wrong part of the screen. Thankfully your gun always shoots, and shooting is fun.

+- Enemy tactics. At the beginning it appears that Slade’s opposition works to flank and out-muscle you, but it’s clear over time that Simon’s minions rely on generic path-finding that at times provokes odd decision-making. Why would a guy I’m shooting from a distance suddenly run right up to the other side of the barrier I’m using? They’re not completely stupid, but not smart either.

The Bad:

– Stuttering. I’ve learned it’s not necessarily your device’s fault when a game doesn’t run smoothly on it. I’ll probably never know for sure, but sadly Shadowgun was never silky on my Thunderbolt when blasting away Dr. Simon’s legion. Hiccups even occurred moving around. This tends to be discouraging, but I still enjoyed the game in spite.

– We meet again… Maybe I’m picky, but I think Shadowgun could’ve spared more enemy types, or at least balanced the encounter frequency. It wasn’t long before I started to wonder if our mad scientist’s army enlisted mostly Psycho Mantis wannabes, and I think it did. Yes you also battle tickers, grenade-launching space suits, and others, but they’re uncommon in comparison.

– Return to sender, please! Shadowgun didn’t seem interested in weapon variety. You start with a standard-issue SMG, and eventually acquire a shotgun, grenade launcher and rocket launcher. These instruments reside in distinct treasure chest-looking crates too, and the number of duplicates made me sad. Why bother leaving these all over the place when ammo is already aplenty? Think of it like opening one of your most anticipated games as a present on your birthday, only to do it again at Christmas. Um…

– Take a bullet, will ya?! It’s stupid that Shadowgun requires your targeting reticule to be red before an enemy receives damage. In other words, if you point at a creep and the reticule isn’t red, cover or no cover, damage won’t be done. Stupid, no? And worse, often half or more of your SMG clip is needed to down a single enemy.

The Ugly:

Final boss. If you learn the quick way to kill him like I did, after several tries that is, it’s not so frustrating. Otherwise, the battle is frustrating. The ending is also a purposeful cliffhanger that encourages you to play The Leftover expansion included, and plain uninteresting altogether. After about four or five hours, I was ready to put the game away.

The Lowdown:

Shadowgun’s problems damage the experience for me; I won’t lie. Of course you may not encounter everything I did either, which I would be happy for. Yet regardless of what issues affect who, Madfinger still produced a very good third-person shooter for phones and tablets that probably knows no equal right now. The action maintains your attention well enough, and Unity really makes the game beautiful on whatever your screen may be. The price is acceptable on both platforms, so by all means invest on the one you have.

Average Score Scale: 7.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 7.5/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: Shadowgun doesn’t lag on your device.

AirAttack HD Review

AirAttack HD (v1.3) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter (plane)
Developer: Art In Games
Google Play Price: $2.99
Apple Store Price: $.99
[Apple] Update Date: November 30, 2011
[Android] Update Date: July 28, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: AirAttack HD is a fighter plane shooter that tasks you with destroying aerial and terrestrial targets. You witness explosions left and right, but nothing that should harm a child.

Plays Like: Other plane/space shooters.

 

Review Basis: Finished the game on Easy andNormal difficulties.

AirAttack HD sounds awfully generic, but don’t let its unexciting name fool you. AA HD is one of the most polished, frantically fun and memorable smartphone/tablet plane shooters. Despite a completely non-existent story, you battle sky and land enemies in a fictional Nazi Germany WWII era, and the action happily keeps you on your toes.

The Great:

The orchestrated music. It isn’t often that a game’s sole standout attribute is its music, but I was enthralled by AirAttack HD’s the moments the menu theme began to play. The sound quality is amazing, and to this day I’m dumbfounded that a mobile game can bring audio like it to the table. The track list isn’t extensive, but what pours in through your earbuds as you’re playing sticks in the mind. The material is exactly fitting for an action game or movie. Art in Games’ efforts are commendable.

The Good:

+ Very challenging. No gamer wants to see ‘Game Over’ on his/her screen, but to avoid that here you must focus on hostiles in the air and on the ground across the eight missions that span four sets of ‘Operations’ (Green Fox, White Storm, Dark Sand, and Red Sea). Numerous enemy projectile types and the ominous bodies of unfriendly vessels constantly threaten your well-being, and dodging both is a must. You’ll pay the price for carelessness.

+ Work of art. Art In Games lives up to its group’s name with the visual presentation AirAttack HD brings. The action never slowed on my phone, a pleasant surprise, and I’ve no complains about what I saw. The environment terrain varies across the different missions; there are many enemy plane types; every boss is unique; the physics are perfectly convincing; there’s real-time shadowing; etc. This mobile title serves the eye candy.

+ Boss fights. Each stage sends you a unique major foe, and they’re all fun to fight. It’s a mix of logical and bizarre. You start off destroying a castle stronghold, and meet others later on such as a gigantic destroyer boat, a secret mech, and more.

+ Constant fire. The game fires your main weapon constantly; I appreciate that.

+ Two planes. Before each mission begins, you choose between the standard fighter and one that can switch between bullet fire and using a flamethrower. That’s quite a startling difference, but the options are welcome and shake up the gameplay a little bit.

+ Interesting upgrades. At pre-determined points of each mission, a giant aerial store swoops in to sell weapon upgrades and specials. You can soup up your main gun(s), purchase an auto-turret, equip a lightning beam, and more. It all costs money that can be tough to acquire, but it’s a guilty pleasure to possess a fully tricked-out fighter plane.

+ New Game+. AirAttack HD strangely doesn’t tell you that it can be replayed with all your purchased upgrades. Yet I figured out that if you play again on the same difficulty that you just finished, your upgrades and high score are preserved. It’s pretty sweet because the enemy basically takes a pounding at that point.

The So-So:

+- Finger obstruction. This may not be an issue if you play AA HD on a tablet, but I think it’s cheap to lose a life simply because you couldn’t see an enemy projectile or craft about to hit because your finger was in the way.

+- Distinguishing pickups. A Help section educates you about the different facets of the action, and the different pickups that appear after creating chaos. However, not only do most people not bother with those things, but its organization doesn’t encourage a proper study of the information. Why not give just a simple tutorial mission that explains the money, weapon upgrade and other awards left behind?

+- Dropping bombs. You can drop a bomb by double-tapping the screen, but it’s not consistent. There’s an independent icon in the bottom-left that’s specifically for it, but that amounts to nothing more than a distraction. Given that the majority of your cash is acquired by exploding ground structures, you’d want a reliable input method while still concentrating upon dodging enemies and attacking them.

The Bad:

– Too short! You might encounter a handful of Game Over screens because games like AirAttack HD don’t highlight your skills. However, that’s no substitute for a game to have an appropriate length. You can finish all four Operations within two or three hours, and less than an hour on New Game+. Art In Games didn’t commit a egregious offense with this, but an additional Operation or two, or even another mode would’ve been nice.

The Lowdown:

Regardless of your platform and associated cost, you can enjoy a very well-put-together plane shooter on your iOS or Android phone/tablet. I think the effort we see that AIG put into AirAttack HD is a step or two above most mobile games. Sure, it’s not very long and you can struggle controlling the game a bit, but those flaws are bunk considering the grand scheme. So if you’re tired of all the first-person shooters this generation, why don’t you hop into the cockpit of AirAttack HD and blow something up?

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.0/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s short, lacks a story, and not always easy to handle. Regardless, AirAttack HD is great fun.

Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips Review

Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips (v1.15) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation (airport)
Developer: Lemon Team
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $.99
[Apple] Release Date: December 17, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 23, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips is a sequel to the November 2010 Airport Mania: First Flight. There isn’t a reason for moms and dads to be concerned regarding this experience. A young gamer might struggle with its micromanagement requirements, but that’s the only conceivable obstacle for minors to play.

Review Basis: Achieved Perfect scores on all but one stage in areas 1 through 9. Finished a handful of stages in the final area.

Mobile gaming has exposed a fascinating, never-before-considered willingness in yours truly to play certain types of titles. Robo Defense drew me in to tower defense, Modern Combat has helped me enjoy touch screen-only first-person shooters, and then there’s Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips. If it was suggested prior to fall 2011 that I would play a simulator…an airport simulator, forget about actually taking pleasure in it, I would’ve likely worn one of those “Are you for real?” kind of looks. Nonetheless, it has happened, and I’m not ashamed in the least to admit that both concepts were indeed fulfilled.

The Great:

Addictive challenge. It’s never easy in game design to provide the perfect challenge and motivate the player to return. Lemon Team’s Wild Trips succeeds with flying colors on both fronts. Across ten pleasantly unique landscapes, you act as an air traffic control operator, with the goal of communicating to cutesy planes when and where to land, approach a drop-off/pick-up gate, receive any necessary service (fuel, repairs, luggage), and finally take off again. Every leg of an individual plane’s journey is intended to add points to your overall score, and achieving a Perfect on every stage is no cakewalk. It’s a fun and frantic experience that anyone with a quick brain and finger can appreciate.

The Good:

+ Adorable. You can call me a sap or question my masculinity, but I’ve no problem praising the adorable presentation of Airport Mania 2. Each plane bears a cute set of eyes, a nose (the actual vehicle’s), and a grinning mouth. Each landscape is also beautiful: rich in color, appropriate detail, and distinct plane type designs. There’s not a reason to complain about how the game looks.

+ Audio package. You probably won’t hum the stage themes away from the game, but they’re appropriate and encourage you along. The sound effects especially cracked me up at times. You’ll hear all kinds of planes singing ‘doo doo doo’ melodies throughout the game, and varying intonations help the noise not become too repetitive. And for you American gamers that love their country, wait until you play the airborne airport!

+ Interesting awards. It’s neat to be recognized for quickly landing planes carrying a pregnant woman, impatient old-timer, organ transplant, or even the stinkin’ President of theUnited States! The colorful ribbons that represent each good deed don’t do anything but sit on your personal profile wall, but each instance is at least tracked. You’re also acknowledged for maintaining maximum color multipliers on all your gates upon finishing a stage, amongst other tasks worthy of note.

+ Upgrades. Each major airport comes with several stages to conquer, and you’re encouraged to score high in every one. If you don’t, the money available to spend on improvements to your airport is more limited, as it’s directly tied to how you previously performed. Amenities like a VIP layover, faster gate(s), improved gas station, serving refreshments, showing a movie, and more, greatly increase your chances of nailing consecutive Perfects over time.

+ Child’s play. Like most other casual iOS or Android games that require only the touch of your finger, AM2: Wild Trips tasks you with tapping a plane, then tapping where you want it to go. That’s all there is to it.

The So-So:

+- The color palettes. Four different sets of plane color palettes are available to choose. The problem is that while they’re overall distinguishable on the menu screen, they aren’t so much in the heat of chaotic traffic control. I think a default primary color scheme would’ve been best. Let the player customize the colors if it was his/her desire.

The Bad:

– Selection difficulty. With a squadron of planes on the ground, it’s likely that in wanting to move them around quickly that you’ll have occasional difficulty pinpointing them. It’s especially problematic when all your gates, layover spots and service stations are occupied. It usually doesn’t mean the difference between a Supreme or Perfect score, but can be frustrating. Taking extra-long might make some of your customers a bit unhappy!

– What radar? I’ve read in every article I’ve scoured for Airport Mania 2 that there’s radar that forewarns you about what plane color is coming next. You know, like Tetris. Now I know about the obvious radar-looking partial circle in the upper-left side of the screen, but someone will have to educate me on just how it’s ‘cluing me in’. If the blue, yellow and orange lines are some kind of code, I haven’t deciphered it. It hasn’t been helpful yet.

The Ugly:

Having your progress wiped. Lemon Team committed a terrible blunder issuing one of their recent updates to the game. Many customers, possibly everyone, who downloaded it without a second thought became victim of the ol’ memory wipe. Every last bit of progress you made vanished in an instant, with no means of recovery. I recall having achieved Perfect scores on at least every stage through area 5 at that point. Justin wasn’t happy, and this is partially the reason he lost interest in finishing the final area.

The Lowdown:

Despite my Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips progress being nullified in mere seconds, I’m not about to contest that the game deserves low marks as a result. It was a mistake, and I’m blessed that something worse didn’t happen. It was painful to be on the receiving end, but life goes on. Despite the flaws of this air traffic control simulator, it’s a wonderfully-entertaining game that sells I believe at under value. It’s content-appropriate for anyone, and brings a balanced challenge that you don’t encounter often. If managing a handful of airplanes across a vast array of environments sounds interesting to you, by all means drop $.99 on Airport Mania 2.

Average Score Scale: 9.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.0/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: You experience little to no trouble selecting planes and/or you understand the radar’s signaling.

Dead Space Review

Dead Space (v1.1.35) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Developer: Iron Monkey/EA
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99
[Apple] Release Date: January 25, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 16, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Dead Space, for iOS and Android devices, is a violence and space monster-filled sci-fi title that bridges the original Dead Space and its proper console sequel. Though mobile games aren’t rated, I recommend keeping this out of the hands of minors.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal difficulty, and most of New Game + as of this writing. Unlocked the majority of the achievements.

Dead Space for iOS/Android devices falls into the uncommon category of legitimate entry into the canon of a major franchise on a mobile platform. As Codename: Vandal, an engineer on the Sprawl, you must fight a Necromorph infestation by any means necessary after being duped into unleashing them on the space station in the first place. Dead Space is a must for those who love the series’ action, as it retains most of the gameplay elements that we’ve become familiar with and enjoy.

The Great:

Legitimate Dead Space. A Dead Space for mobile device has to be watered down, right? Wrong. To an extent that’s true, but not to the degree that you might think. Sure, the production values obviously aren’t as high as the console counterpart(s), and much of the atmosphere is lost on a smaller platform. However, the same HUD-less and Necromorph-filled sci-fi carnage is available for your smartphone or tablet.

The Good:

+ Looks and plays part. Conveying a horror atmosphere as we’re used to on a 40″ or more HDTV with surround sound doesn’t quite translate to a mobile adaptation. Hence, Dead Space goes the route of ‘make you jump’ scares, and it does so well, with freakish creatures that pop out of various places, or simply play dead to catch you off-guard. There’s blood most everywhere you turn, and lots of chopped up bodies. DS isn’t for the faint of heart or squeamish, but appeals to those who enjoy the thrill of massacring an army of space monsters. The detail is impressive, and Vandal especially bears a fond resemblance to our friend Isaac Clarke. Enjoy battling through long stretches of corridor, research and medical laboratories, zero-gravity areas, and much more.

+ Fun equipment. Dead Space I believe struck gold with its concept of turning mining and engineering tools into weapons to strategically dismember the Necromorph horde. Our favorites, like the plasma cutter, ripper, and line gun return. They’re unique, bear secondary firing modes (tilt your device), and upgradeable just like in the console games. It’s a happy moment when you stumble upon a Power Node or two, in order that your toys and suit can be improved in various ways.

+ Controls. Dead Space plays with virtual controls, like most other smartphone and tablet action games. Iron Monkey’s design is particularly great. Instead of a movement stick, you control Vandal by sliding your finger up-and-down and cross the character’s body. By tapping the screen real estate next to Vandal’s body, you pull up the currently equipped tool, where you can then fire, send out a stasis wave, reload, or perform various melee attacks. It’s not perfect, but pretty close to as good as it’ll be.

+ Perfect timing. I clocked in at a hair under five hours to complete the overall mission. That certainly sounds short, but you won’t want it to last longer.

+ Checking it twice. It isn’t enough to finish Dead Space once. If you do on Normal difficulty, its New Game + counterpart opens, in addition to Hard. So, you can either take on the tougher challenge, or restart with all your weapons and upgrades from the get-go.

+ Character interaction. Tyler Radikov and Director Tiedemann accompany you by radio throughout Vandal’s mission. Their interactions with our hero aren’t ground-breaking, but aid in guiding you from point A to B and one objective to the next. There’s a lot of frustration and desperation on the Sprawl, and it all comes out during the conversations.

The So-So:

+- Necromorphs’ appearance. The sounds that Vandal’s enemies emit are much creepier and scarier than how they look…by a longshot. I’m not sure if it’s a low poly-count, lack of clear textures…or what, but the Necromorphs in this mobile device adaptation don’t look all that frightening.

+- The ending. The original Dead Space at least tried to end with a cliffhanger for Isaac Clarke, possibly inducing some unwanted personal business for the player at the same time. I can’t say that about Vandal. Dead Space’s conclusion is an all-around disappointment. I don’t like it when it feels like I enjoyed no ultimate reward for my hours invested in the game experience.

The Bad:

– Audio glitches. I encountered instances of the music cutting out, hearing no voice when a character was speaking, no sound upon firing one of Vandal’s weapons, and so forth. This may have been isolated to my Thunderbolt, but that doesn’t give Dead Space an excuse to not operate properly.

– Lag. Similar to the game’s occasional audio problems, I noticed a trend of skipping in the action, regardless of what I was doing. Most instances lasted nanoseconds, which is forgivable, but sporadically I also experienced significant lag when intense battle was taking place.

The Ugly:

Why does Vandal climb atop the trams? Several times during the campaign you must travel from one section of the Sprawl to another via a tram system. That’s fine and logical, but I didn’t understand why Vandal never made it inside one of them…you know, to be safe(r). Instead, you’re thrown into a roof battle with a militia of Necromorphs that randomly make their way to Vandal’s position. It seems as though the game insisted that you fight the creatures on a moving platform, and a tram top was the only idea for this.

The Lowdown:

It’s extremely cool that Dead Space so closely resembles its console brethren, and yet asks for less than 1/6 of the normal retail cost. If you’re a fan that owns a compatible smartphone or tablet, $6.99 shouldn’t be painful in the least to experience the game. Yes, it isn’t as graceful compared to playing with a traditional controller, but Iron Monkey’s project is still one fun game. Why would you pass up slicing and dicing some Necromorphs on the go?

Average Score Scale: 8.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8.5/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s Dead Space on a mobile device: very fun and faithful.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: The game especially doesn’t perform well on your device.

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation Review

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation (v1.0.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-12
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99
[Apple] Release Date: October 27, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 19, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Modern Combat 3 is the third entry in Gameloft’s popular shooter series on smartphones and tablets. Like Sandstorm and Black Pegasus before it, Fallen Nation brings plenty of war, blood, profanity, and utter chaos.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal; achieved rank 12 within online competitive community as of this writing.

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation continues the franchise’s trend of not attempting in the slightest to differentiate from the Call of Duty or Battlefield experience. You wouldn’t be crazy to call it Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3-lite, because FN resembles Activision/Infinity Ward’s and EA’s products in basically every way. War has reached the United States in the campaign, and the online multiplayer might as well be Call of Duty or Battlefield sans a standard controller.

The Great:

Gets better with age. Gameloft arguably produces the best first-person shooter experience for smartphones and tablets. Other great experiences exist, but I don’t think any come as close to reproducing console franchises as Modern Combat does. The series has also crazy improved since Sandstorm, which released almost 2.5 years ago. If you played every Modern Combat in succession over the next 30 days, you might wonder if the same company was responsible for each. Fallen Nation is great, and only those who refuse to play a shooter with touch controls should avoid it.

The Good:

+ An in-your-face campaign. The KPR (Korean/Pakistani/Russian) Allianceis fed up with the United States’ supposed imperialism. In retaliation, they cripple the country’s cyber and communications grid, and go to town on various major cities (sorry Chicago!). As a member of Phantom Unit, it’s fun to respond across a number of domestic and international destinations. The cinematic presentation also doesn’t disappoint. Either way, MC3 doesn’t skimp on throwing you into one gunfight after another.

+ Sprinting. Modern Combat’s addition of a sprint concept is welcome. Players likely felt like they were moving at a snail’s pace in Fallen Nation’s predecessors. But does the function improve or hinder things? That probably depends on how you’ve customized the inputs. It can be challenging to change your direction while holding the sprint icon, as the other finger occupies the virtual joystick. Then take further into account the pain of tapping the crouch icon, which sends you sliding [into what’s hopefully cover], and there’s a lot of potential multi-tasking to do here.

+ Visuals. I thought the disparity between Sandstorm and Black Pegasus was substantial, and it’s even greater between BP and Fallen Nation. It’s all thanks to the massive 1.37gb package you must download prior to playing. What comes in it are graphics and artwork that might make you wonder if you’re playing an Xbox 360 or PS3 game. I kid you not. The weapons look amazing, and reloading them equally so. The chaos is very convincing. The soldiers enjoy more attention to detail and higher poly-counts, and the environments look unbelievably real for being in a game that you play on a mobile device.

+ Online play. There are a few things I unimpressed with about Modern Combat 3’s online support, which I’ll cover later, but there’s more to be happy with. The modes FPS lovers know and enjoy are present; six appropriately-sized maps provide settings for battle, and there’s much more customization offered. You can have six custom weapon/equipment/skill load-outs over time, and just about everything you do in a match nets experience points. Of course, you won’t bulldoze opponents if you’re hopping online for the first time, but most view the growing pains as worth it.

+ Mission variety. There’s plenty of on-foot fighting, but you man the guns of an AC-130 (definitely not familiar), blast a helicopter turret, breach and clear the buildings of a Korean village, and much more.

+ Realism. It’s refreshing to play a shooter, especially one depicting modern war, that doesn’t feel like an arcade game. Enemies usually don’t require more than three bullets to fall. Often one or two does the trick, and I appreciate that, even on Normal difficulty.

The So-So:

+- Music. I didn’t know that various forms of rock turned into the latest and greatest audio motif for a war first-person shooter. There are other genres, and I wouldn’t have minded hearing them.

The Bad:

–  Shut up! I think the cursing is pitifully excessive, and it annoyed me especially that your fellow soldiers never shut up! They’re a bunch of drama queens because they shout about absolutely everything, and then some. Yes, I know we’re under fire for the fifteenth time. You wouldn’t need cover-fire if you were with me! I understand that there’s a lot of shouting in the heat of battle, but this war took it to ridiculous levels.

– Online multiplayer. First of all, why can’t I play online through my 4G data connection? Plenty of other Android titles allow that, but not a multiplayer-intensive shooter? Being restricted to a wi-fi signal is plain dumb. Two, it doesn’t bode well for those who don’t mindlessly unload their cash that all the unlockables can be bought with real money. Furthermore, you don’t have immediate access to a new toy you unlock; it must be subsequently purchased with in-game currency. That I think prolongs unnecessarily the sense of accomplishment, seeing as how challenging it can be to compete to begin with. It’s also pretty lame that occasionally the server fails to record your actions in a given match or two, thus things reset when you leave the game to what they had been previously. Well, talk about a waste of time!

The Ugly:

1.37gb of required extra data?! Why Gameloft didn’t support 3G/4G connections for this is beyond my comprehension. Acquiring that much data using a wi-fi signal, and from a server that proves unreliable, is a real hassle. It took not just a few hours for the package to come down the pipeline for me, but several restarts of the download process altogether. You can’t even restart a download from where it previously left off. Not good.

The Lowdown:

I believe Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is Gameloft’s most impressive product to date. You can tell they worked very hard on the project, and especially listened to fan feedback. While this won’t convince naysayers of playing a FPS with touch controls to hop on board, everyone else can enjoy what is an excellent game. Fallen Nation also proves that mobile gaming is inching ever closer to supplying the same quality of experience currently only available on consoles and PC. To play a game like this for $6.99 was unheard of just a few years ago. If you love shooters, Modern Combat 3 won’t disappoint.

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s not original, but one of the best mobile FPS titles.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: You angrily struggle with the touch screen-only controls.

Confessions of an Editor-in-Chief IX: Married, Mobile & Ministering

I’ve undeservedly enjoyed many blessings throughout life. The ongoing [and hopefully life-long] latest is Christine, my most wonderful and beautiful wife. Let that be an encouragement to you male readers; even guys who love gaming can woo a special young woman. It can happen to any of you, plain and simple.

Yet it goes without saying that my life will never again be what it was pre-marriage, or engagement even, and that’s the way it should be. This change, and the object of my faith have taught me that our hours here on Earth can be pitifully wasted. While there’s inherently nothing wrong with the fun of gaming, it can very easily tear someone from reality in a way that isn’t at all healthy. You miss out on real relationships, the reward of hard work, the beauty of our created world, and the joy and privilege of giving to others.

To be transparent, I despaired much prior to entering my one-flesh union about the idea of possibly giving up playing videogames entirely. My wife isn’t a gamer, which is perfectly OK. We’ve still managed to humorously enjoy some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (NES), Wii Sports, Wii Party and somewhat of Mario Kart in recent months. However, building a stable relationship based on our beliefs with her is of utmost importance and more valuable than anything I might accomplish on the couch with controller in-hand. Even so, I’d be lying if I said the thought of continuing to dominate complex console experiences wasn’t attractive to me.

Will our relationship ever be perfect? No, of course not. We’re imperfect beings. Are we expected to be? No, thankfully not. Regardless, it’s an interesting challenge…making choices to rebalance my life so I can still enjoy playing games, but regard the higher priority of giving myself to my wife, church and others.

Thus why I’m thankful now for mobile gaming. Though the HTC Thunderbolt isn’t the most high-end or reliable device, it’s afforded me the enjoyment of surprisingly sophisticated virtual experiences. I appreciate especially how wallet-friendly it is to dabble in these creative and challenging titles. I’ve easily spent less than $50 on over 200 games since this summer. It’s not easy to play every genre, shooters particularly, with just a touch screen, but it’s better than nothing. That’s why in recent weeks you’ve seen reviews for games like Robo Defense, Game Dev Story and Modern Combat 2. Ideally I’d review these games closer to their actual release, but since I happily carry the COE burden alone, it’s not a big deal. After all, mobile games I think enjoy a different kind of longevity since the smartphone market is drastically different than the console, and even portable scene. Newcomers are still downloading Angry Birds, for the matter.

Lately I’ve had a blast with fresh and somewhat older Android games. Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, Dead Space, N.O.V.A. 2, and more. You can expect critiques of each in the future, and I’m excited to bring such content to COE. Solo gaming on the major platforms just isn’t sustainable for me anymore due to my marriage and church-related responsbilities, but the mobile option has helped me stay on board. I’ve no complaints, not to mention our organization has never covered mobile gaming before. If it expands our readership and attracts more industry companies to us, then wonderful. I’m also in the midst of saving up for a tablet, and am looking forward to possibly purchasing one next summer. If you have any suggestions on which offers a quality gaming experience, I’m happy to receive them.

So what about you? Own a smartphone or tablet? Do any gaming on it, casual or hardcore? What are your favorite titles? Are there any you’d like to see me eventually cover? Any thoughts about mobile gaming in general? Please sound off in the comments!

To finish, and sign off for 2011 (Happy New Year!), enjoy watching me looking like a total scrub playing the first mission of Modern Combat 3 below.

Game Dev Story Review

Game Dev Story (v1.0.7) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Kairosoft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $2.50
Release Date: October 9, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: If your child gamer isn’t interested in micromanagement-type games, then he/she should stay away from Game Dev Story. Kairosoft’s videogame development company sim is all about that, and much fun for those willing to learn the ins and outs.

Review Basis: Reached 20-year time-limit with my company [Disciples]; released 64 games, with 44 inducted into the Hall of Fame; sold 799,097,617 total units; top-seller ‘7 Wonders 2′ sold 42,964,820 units; garnered $1.33 billion of profit (uh-oh, Occupy won’t be too happy with me); won 14 Best Design, 14 Best Music, 0 Worst Game, 12 Overall Runner-up and 1 [Overall] Grand Prize awards; attracted record 86,408 Gamedex attendees; acquired 26% of console market share

If in real life, opening and maintaining a videogame development company isn’t in the cards for you, then Game Dev Story can still help you experience the dream. Armed with $500,000, and conveniently avoiding all the bureaucracy, you have 20 years to turn a four-employee start-up with a name of your choosing into a dominant empire. Can you churn out enough successful PC releases to eventually become the king console maker?

The Great:

The whole experience. Initial decision-making can intimidating, but the rewards (profit, more fans, awards, etc.) of your risks and further understanding, are very satisfying. Begin with four lackeys, then expand to six, and finish with an elite eight on the payroll.

The Good:

+ So much to do, but do whatever. Game Dev Story does away with number-crunching, and instead focuses on having you just tell the company what to do. Train your employees. Level-up their skills. Take on a cost-free contract to create some art, mini-games, etc. Or if you go the game-making route: choose the platform (console or handheld) to develop for, pick the employee who will specifically handle each significant milestone (proposal/gameplay, graphics, music) of the development and watch the goofy chaos unfold. You decide how to handle the capital, who to hire or fire, what genre and type of game to create, if and with what to advertise, and much more.

+ Nods to the industry. Ever dreamed of developing for the Super IES? How about the Playdion? Did you know the ‘Game-Box’ actually won the most market share? Will your company attend the Gamedex convention? Will your staff work extra-long hours on some Dead Bull? Might you release a 64-bit, blu-ray disc console before Sonny even does? Interested in having your products’ names appear on the moon? All this and more can be done by your company.

+ Goofy, fun atmosphere. GDS doesn’t mirror the life-affecting seriousness of the industry we know, and no one would play if that was the case. So as your people work, icons frequently appear above their heads to denote what element of the game has improved (fun, creativity, graphics & sound). They even ‘catch on fire’ when something is especially taken to the next level. Just about everything positive results in an ‘event’ that shows the team as all smiles. And wait until you see your fans line up at their local stores before your game even releases due to the sheer anticipation.

The So-So:

+-  Music and effects. Your company operates in three different buildings if it lasts the game’s 20-year time-limit. Each brings a unique tune that plays in the background. The sound effects from the ‘goofy, fun atmosphere’ mentioned above, however, stay the same for the duration. It’s all OK to listen to, but you’ll likely either tune them out eventually like I did, or mute the game altogether.

The Bad:

– Another blackout? Apparently Kairosoft didn’t want your company backing up its data. Thus I observed what I believe was too many ‘blackouts’ in the middle of a development cycle. It boils down to the project losing some quality across the board, and they always conveniently take place at the tail end of things, rendering you no time to recover. You can’t delay a release; it’s only possible to cancel outright.

–  Loss of challenge. Game Dev Story excellently provides goals to strive for, but it doesn’t last the entire time. Between year 12 and 15, there wasn’t really anything new for me to conquer. Every game I put out was the top-seller and profited big time, and my console (Prophecy) sold around 18 million units when all was said and done. I could’ve engineered a handheld, but it was pointless. Several years of wash, rinse, repeat isn’t the best way to end a game.

The Ugly:

Inconsistent results. It’s strange when a [competitor’s] game wins both the Worst Game award ($300k penalty) from the Global Game Awards, and the Grand Prize ($1M award) in the same year. I also determined that the critic scores your games receive once released had a random element to them. I only managed to win one set of perfect 10/10 scores, despite releasing a ton of games with high quality overall. The single one that did, 7 Wonders 2, was my only Grand Prize winner. Everything else between 37 and 39 was a habitual runner-up. How does a game that regularly tops the sales charts not win the Grand Prize? These instances, among others, remind you that Game Dev Story is flawed.

The Lowdown:

Game Dev Story leaves behind the real stresses of game development to allow us to enjoy what’s meant to be enjoyed in the process. If you want to create your own Final Fantasy, do so. If you’re the goofy type and want to experiment with a genre and type that nobody in their right mind would probably play, have at it. The possibilities of what can be done are more or less endless, and it’s up to you to make the decisions. For $2.50, enjoy an innocent sprite-driven simulation where you can spend several hours investing $500,000, and eventually explode it into $500,000,000 with your products.

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8.5/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: GDS has sucked two or more 20-year cycles out of you.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: You prefer more depth to the micromanagement formula.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem Review

Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem (v3.2.8) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: [Superhero] Action
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $4.99
Release Date: September 1, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Spider-Man is arguably the most child-friendly superhero. The comics are loved by millions; the movies are revered, and the universe’s merchandise can be found everywhere. Total Mayhem adds to it as one of the web-head’s many videogames.

Review Basis: Completed the story on Normal; acquired most of the art gallery pieces; unlocked the Black Suit.

The subtitle Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem carries is no exaggeration. Several foes of the web slinger were inmates of the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s maximum security, superhuman prison. That is, until a freak incident blows the place wide-open, letting Sandman, Rhino, Electro, Venom, Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock) and Green Goblin loose. It’s up to Peter Parker to return these adversaries to their cells, and stop a sinister plot brewing in Manhattan.

The Great:

All Spider-Man, none of the gimmicks. Forget pizza delivery, hearing Tobey Macguire and Kirsten Dunst, and space-time continuum nonsense. Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem highlights everything that makes our red and blue friend special. Incredible agility, mesmerizing hand-and-foot combat, web-slinging, wall crawling, boss butt-kicking…Gameloft captures it all and then some. This Android/iOS game proves that you don’t need powerful electronics to be sucked in to the Spider-Man universe.

The Good:

+ Combos galore. Spider-Man is equipped with 20 different ways to beat down his foes. A fast kick (think Street Fighter’s Chun Li], a flurry of punches, playing web rodeo…it’s all executed with three distinct touch inputs. Repetition of these skills is inevitable, but overwhelming one crowd of baddies after another with Parker’s arsenal is a treat for beat’em-up enthusiasts.

+ Visuals. Total Mayhem isn’t really cel-shaded, but still plays like a comic book come to life. Of course this mobile game isn’t decorated with intricate detail, but Spidey’s Manhattan under siege, along with well-animated battle, makes Gameloft’s efforts among the best I’ve seen on a smartphone. I can only imagine the benefit of iPhone’s retina display.

+ Voice acting. Spider-Man voice acting is well-known as a mix of seriousness and cheese, but mostly cheese. Total Mayhem doesn’t disappoint. Some of Parker’s lines are groan-inducing, but that’s just his personality. The bosses impressively sound their part too, but I could’ve done without the dozens of tied-up Manhattan citizens’ cries. Hearing “Help!” every few seconds isn’t the most effective way to motivate a rescue.

+ Bosses. Per the villain list provided earlier, clearly Total Mayhem doesn’t squelch on the boss encounters. No Spider-Man game ever really has, and the six unique battles our hero must win here are memorable and provide just the right challenge. You can’t merely mash the punch and web attack inputs to achieve victory. Sandman, all the way to Green Goblin, must each be exposed according to their individual weaknesses. It’s fun.

+ Replay incentive. Total Mayhem does its best to convince you not to leave by rewarding the fully-functional black suit, Ultimate difficulty, and a number of other extras. A Boss Rush mode, picture gallery (photos can be snapped during boss fights), and art gallery are additionally available for the player’s pleasure. Plus, it’s highly unlikely to find all the hidden art in one playthrough, so by all means return for that.

+ Audio package. The level themes won’t necessarily come to mind away from the game, but fit the experience well. The sound effects also fittingly emphasize Spidey’s hand and foot blows, in addition to his other abilities.

The So-So:

+-  Spider-sense. A Spider-Man videogame is obligated to provide the hero’s trademark ability to detect a looming threat. Total Mayhem is no exception, but here it’s unfortunately not always helpful. Usually it does a fine job of preventing a sucker punch, or other sneak attack of sorts. However, too often the animation that Spider-sense sends Peter into doesn’t clear an enemy’s size, or what’s meant to be avoided altogether. It results in unfair damage, but thankfully is easily overcome.

The Bad:

–  No Manhattan playground. This is purely a personal nitpick, not a legitimate knock. It’s asking a lot for a mobile Spider-Man game to open Manhattan for random web-slinging. Still, I think Total Mayhem teases the possibility a little too much with the aerial travel that you actually do in this adventure. It’s perfectly forgivable, but who doesn’t want it?

–  ‘Upgrading’. In each stage, green and red orbs can be collected to replenish health and upgrade Spidey’s battle attributes respectively. In light of the latter, I could never discern the fruits of pouring thousands of orbs into Parker’s strength, defense and special categories. I’m sure they were there, as I can’t imagine the game would waste your time, but what did my investments return?

The Ugly:

Battling Rhino. Defeating Spider-Man’s Juggernaut was the toughest thing for me to do. He wasn’t difficult per se, just a little cheap. I couldn’t figure out why his charge attacks connected with me despite visibly jumping high enough to clear Pointy Nose’s hulking frame. I retried the skirmish about six or seven times before finally discovering the path to Rhino’s demise, but even the revelation didn’t make victory easy to come by.

The Lowdown:

Spider-Man videogames usually, and understandably, generate more skepticism than hype. Young gamers that don’t know any better and unquenchable fans of the franchise are happy to support just about every release. Yet no one can deny that Peter Parker has struggled to star in a masterful game. Well, I’m confident that Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem doesn’t bear that stigma. I believe that finally, and on the Android/iOS platforms of all things, we have a Spidey game to be proud of. Well-done Gameloft.

Average Score Scale: 9 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.5/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: Simply a fantastic game, and one of the universe’s best.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: If you insist on enjoying open-Manhattan web-slinging.

 

Raging Thunder Review

Raging Thunder (v1.1.0) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-4
Genre: Racing
Developer: Polarbit
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $.99
Release Date: October 10, 2008

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Raging Thunder, despite its intimidating name, provides innocent arcade racing fun to the masses. This approachable game can be enjoyed by all who thirst to burn some rubber on the tarmac.

Review Basis: CompletedArcade mode, and Championship. Sampled the online (wi-fi or data) multiplayer.

The Great:

Quick, straightforward racing fun. Raging Thunder isn’t concerned with burdening players with the deeper elements a racer can throw at you. There’s frankly not much even to do in this $.99 package. Yet what matters is that the game is easy to pick up. Zip around a track or two, have fun, and be done. Raging Thunder excels in that.

The Good:

+ Quality steering. The idea of tilting a device (phone, controller, etc.) to control a virtual vehicle doesn’t typically strike me as exciting or intuitive. Nonetheless, doing so in Raging Thunder manages to feel good. The mistakes I made were truly my fault.

+ Nice-looking tracks. Racing Thunder isn’t a visual masterpiece, but definitely looks the part of a quick, no-nonsense racing game. Decent scenery accompanies each track (yes, I do look at such things…), and the sports cars are varied.

+ Thunder and money. That combination probably sounds odd, but bear with me. Thunder and money can be picked up on the tracks when driven into. Thunder is available everywhere (Quick Race, Arcade & Championship) and provides a nice speed boost as you tap and hold the blue bar on the left side of the screen. Money litters the Championship tracks to serve as added prize money for sprucing vehicles and purchasing new ones. Both are useful, and an interesting challenge to acquire.

The So-So:

+-  Multiplayer. It’s neat that RT supports wi-fi signals, and your phone’s data connection for online competition. I don’t know if 3 or 4G participants enjoy any kind of serious advantage over wi-fi users, but that’s impossible for me to determine. If you’re able to find people to challenge on the servers, the game plays well.

The Bad:

–  Music. You’re not only subjected to a cheesy techno beat, but it proves exasperating by being the only one you hear.

– Laughing skulls. It somewhat defeats the theme of the game when tracks also come populated with yellow skulls. They not only drain your thunder meter harshly and slow you down significantly when out of the blue juice, but laugh when doing either.

– No going back. While playing Championship, you can’t return to any previously finished races. You can improve cars and purchase new ones along the way, but there’s no looking back over your shoulder. Well isn’t that a nice replay incentive?

The Ugly:

Playing favorites. For better or worse, Raging Thunder likes the AI better than you. For one, opponents are immune from picking up the aforementioned yellow skulls. Furthermore, they don’t seem adversely affected at all when spun out. In other words, staying close to the competition for a few seconds fills up your right-hand ‘tackle’ meter. The intention is for you bash some bumpers with it, but what’s the point if their recovery is virtually instant?

The Lowdown:

Raging Thunder isn’t a grandiose racer, but one meant for quick play sessions. It doesn’t last for hours, should be muted before long, and unfairly favors the computer that you must defeat. Still, it controls well, is fun in the time given it, and doesn’t look so bad either. If $.99 sounds reasonable for this, then scoot your way up to the starting line.

Average Score Scale: 6 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 6/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: You’re not interested in the frills of other racing series.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: You think there’s not enough content to even justify $.99.